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SPCA Hails Cat Case Sentence


For release: 10 June 2004


The Royal New Zealand SPCA has hailed as a "step in the right direction" the sentence imposed on a Taranaki woman who failed to look after 21 Persian cats found on her premises.

Lynn Walker was yesterday sentenced by the New Plymouth District Court to 300 hours Community Service and banned from owning cats for five years. She was also ordered to pay $4,000 in reparations to the SPCA.

In passing sentence on Walker, Judge Louis Bidois said that she had "failed miserably to provide for these cats".

Walker had earlier pleaded guilty to 41 charges, including 20 charges of failing to ensure the animals' needs were met in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge, 20 of failing to ensure they received treatment that alleviated pain and distress and one charge of ill-treating an animal. Her guilty plea came on the fifth day of a jury trial, in which she had originally pleaded not-guilty.

"We applaud the comparatively strong stance taken by the court over this issue. There have been far too many soft sentences in animal abuse cases. However, this sentence is definitely a step in the right direction. Hopefully, we will see a similarly tough response to other cases in the months and years ahead," says the Royal New Zealand SPCA's Acting Chief Executive, Jenny Prattley.

The case revolved around 21 cats and kittens uplifted from Walker's property by the SPCA's North Taranaki branch in late 2000 and early 2001. Amongst the rescued animals were several suffering from snuffles, ringworm, gingivitis, conjunctivitis, fleas, chronic skin disease and/or severe fur-matting. One cat had not had its sutures removed for several months following an operation, whilst a kitten with a ruptured eye ulcer needed to be humanely euthanased.

Several of the cats had been kept in portable carry cages and another in a rabbit hutch, in far from hygienic conditions. A mother cat had been deliberately shut-out of the house and was unable to feed her newborn kitten. Four of the cats required total clipping of their coats under anaesthetic.

"We are delighted that the accused has been banned for five years from owning cats and kittens. No animal should be treated with the callous disregard experienced by the poor creatures in this case," says Jenny Prattley.

"The accused caused considerable delay in resolving this case by insisting on a jury trial and failing to change her plea until the last minute. This, in turn, has led to a huge level of additional expenditure for the SPCA's North Taranaki branch, which has needed to look after 16 of the uplifted cats during their three-and-a-half years in legal limbo.

"In addition to building a special quarantined unit, the branch has had to meet the cost of extensive veterinary care. Providing this care has been a labour of love for our North Taranaki team. But the combined cost of care and of legal expenses relating to the case stands in the region of $85,000. The cost would have been even greater had the Crown not taken over responsibility for the prosecution.

"SPCA shelters do not receive government funding and the Society's work is specifically excluded from receipt of Lotteries Commission grants. We are grateful for the Crown's support with this case and for the court's decision to award us some reparations. But this has still been a costly matter for a tightly-funded, not-for-profit organisation such as the SPCA," Mrs Prattley adds.

In sentencing Walker, Judge Bidois ordered that the 16 cats looked after by the SPCA be forfeited to the Society. The order is subject to a 28 day delay, during which Walker has the right to appeal her sentence.

"After three-and-a-half years of tender loving care, many of these gorgeous cats may well be in a condition in which they can be re-homed. But we will seek expert veterinary advice before making any decisions," says North Taranaki SPCA Inspector Christine Jones.


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